Today is the two year anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown on Canfield Street in Ferguson, Missouri. Last week, I took my sons to the spot he was killed to teach them that evil often happens when people are too frightened to see the light of God in others who look different. My friends Rod Thomas and Pierre Keys along with some other folks composed The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed. It’s a very important theological document which is thoroughly grounded in scripture that needs to be read by anyone who wants to contemplate a Christian response to the racial violence against black people. I will share some excerpts with my own reflections below, but please go to the original document to read the whole thing.
1.4 We believe Black Lives Matter. Scripture speaks of the infinite worth of ALL of humanity (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 9:6), and the Triune God distinctly created us with intentionality and purpose. God loves us in our DIFFERENCES and reveals that the Body will only find true unity in this midst of seeking the purpose of our divinely composed diversity (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:6). The holy writ portrays a sovereign God as caught up in the scandal of particularity moving through the lives of the powerless from the election of Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrews out of Egypt to their Gentile neighbors in ancient Syria, Ethiopia, Persia, Egypt, and Palestine (Amos 9:7). In each of these circumstances we are able to testify to God affirming our differences and addressing unique plights throughout human history.
Too many white Christians today proclaim a “color-blind” gospel which seeks to create a generic (white) humanity through baptism into (the white) Jesus. When white people say we’re all “the same” under the cross, what we’re basically saying is that the white Jesus can make black people white like us. Whiteness is not an actual culture but the claim to transcend culture. Insofar as Christianity has historically sought to transcend cultural particularity, it has allowed itself to become the ideological justification of the colonial conquest that violates and murders black bodies who are perceived to be innately violent and culturally inferior.
The Bible depicts a God who is utterly different than the perfectly neutral, “objective” god of the philosophers. The Bible’s God is “caught up in the scandal of particularity moving through the lives of the powerless.” To say #AllLivesMatter as a “corrective” response to #BlackLivesMatter is to claim the aloof, indifferent God of Deism rather than the God of the Bible who “lets his name dwell” with a particular people. #BlackLivesMatter is analogous to saying #HebrewSlaveLivesMatter, which is the original statement that our scandalously particular God made in liberating the oppressed Hebrew people from their Egyptian slavery.
1.5 We believe the Scriptures reflect God’s Preferential Option of the Poor from Genesis to Revelation (James 1:27, Psalm 68:5, Exodus 22:21, Proverbs 17:5). The Prophets of old taught that God loved and provided for all people, and yet widows, orphans, and migrants found favor with God. God requires justice for the poor and judges each government accordingly (Micah 4:3-4, Daniel 4:25-26). Jesus Christ the Son taught Divine Providence, and before he sent out his disciples, he assured them that God’s loving-kindness reached even the smallest of birds, the sparrow (Matthew 10: 26-31). God’s will is for the lowly of society to receive justice so that all persons in the human community can be made whole.
Jesus’ cross is the central event of the Christian faith. When our atonement theory allows us to look at that event without seeing the obvious display of God’s solidarity with the world’s marginalized, we have left behind the gospel. When Jesus called the crowd to take up their crosses and follow him, he wasn’t asking them to commit to an hour of daily quiet time or avoiding premarital sex or tobacco products. He was inviting them to renounce their dignity and join the procession of condemned humanity bearing their crosses to their execution. Taking up your cross means walking in solidarity with the poor and marginalized. The human community is made whole when the lowliest of society receive their justice first.
2.1… We receive the Word through the Apostle Paul that the LORD Jesus was sent to bring peace (Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 2:14) to the nations. Our goal is for a social and spiritual renewal of our cities, our towns, our states, our country, and our planet, and the Gospel stories tell us that such restoration requires a confession of our sins. We reject the false doctrine as though Racial Reconciliation could happen apart from collective Repentance of White Supremacy (Acts 17:30, Luke 19:8-10).
Racial reconciliation is not a mere restoration of trust between two equal sides that are in conflict. It’s not about feel-good selfies with white cops and black teenagers. One side has been consistently, systemically oppressed by the other. Racial reconciliation requires an undefensive, critical examination of the lingering legacy of white supremacy by white people.
2.2… We reject the false doctrine that love of country means avoiding telling the Truth about our history. Neighborly love mandates that the Black church speaks truth to power, in love, so that the Church Universal and the World can see where Christ is (Ephesians 4:15): in the lives of the oppressed (Matthew 25).
Too often, white people view any reminder about the shameful aspects of our nation’s history as some kind of inappropriate hostility. The grace that we live under as Christians doesn’t erase the truth about the past. It allows us to face the truth without defensiveness.
2.3… We reject the false doctrine that State-sanctioned Wrath is superior to God’s way of Forgiveness and Freedom. Black Churches proclaim the Lordship of Christ, who is the head of the Church Universal as well as all other institutions (Philippians 2:11, 1st Timothy 6:15) We believe that free societies operate in their healthiest states when they model the example set by Jesus. Forgiveness, accountability, and restoration should be a community’s priorities when it comes to non-violent offenders of the law. Black Churches call for an end to the War on Drugs, militarized police, the School-to-Prison pipeline, and the closure of the privatized prisons.
If we really believe as Christians that Jesus “paid it all” on the cross, then retribution as such should have no place in Christian ethics. Christians who believe that Jesus’ blood is penal substitution for our sins should only promote forms of justice that are restorative and rehabilitative. It’s despicable that imprisonment has become a for-profit industry that lobbies the state for harsher sentencing laws in order to make more money. Communities where desperation promotes crime require proactive investment rather than just brutal policing.
2.4… We reject the false doctrine that Peace should be separate from Justice. Christian justice must include economic equality and opportunity for all (Jeremiah 22:13). Just as swords will be turned into plowshares, so must jailhouses be transformed into schoolhouses. Just as no one should be profiled or harassed because of the color of their skin, no one should be discriminated by employers on the basis of race, gender, religion or, creed (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Human dignity is intrinsic to all human persons and therefore all work is valuable in God’s sight. Education and moral formation are the keys to delivering communities from racial oppression.
So many white Americans prefer law and order to justice. Law and order happens when the marginalized don’t disrupt the lives of the privileged. Justice means that society is ordered to provide belonging and safety to all of its people, starting at the bottom.
2.5… We reject the false doctrine, as though the work of the Nation-State should be confused with the Peaceable Kingdom of God. No government official or arm of the State sits on Heaven’s throne, for only Christ reigns supreme. The Black Church calls on all religious bodies, governments and corporations here and abroad to practice the utmost humility in the quest for a Beloved Community.
Any talk about “taking America back for Christ” needs to be exposed as the white supremacist subterfuge that it is. While the church does have a legitimate role to speak prophetic truth to the state, we do not live in a Christian nation nor should we seek to instill one through the power of the nation-state.